The NZPFU welcomes the announcement this afternoon that $50 million of the Government’s “shovel-ready” projects will fund the building and upgrading of fire stations.  This funding is sorely needed.

But already FENZ has failed to prioritise that funding to address community risk and firefighter safety.

CEO Rhys Jones today announced three million of that funding was allocated to upgrade facilities at Okaihau Volunteer Station (with a population of about 670 people) and to build a new station for the rural Cavalli Volunteer Fire Brigade. We have asked for the response statistics for those stations.

He also listed $12 million allocated for the Christchurch City Fire Station, but that re-build had already been budgeted for and is underway.  Christchurch City Station was irreparably damaged in the 2011 earthquakes leaving the career firefighters to manage in damp porta-coms for 9 years despite initially being told it would only be a couple of years.  The housing of career firefighters in “temporary” accommodation for more than 8 years was rife across Christchurch with some suffering ongoing dampness, liquefaction and rat problems.

For the past 18 months the NZPFU has been calling on FENZ to establish a community protection panel to determine the number and location of stations, appliances and firefighters according to risk analysis, population growth and response times. New Zealand is in dire need of new stations and additional career firefighters to ensure response times meet the nation’s needs.

Professional career firefighters respond to all incident types including medical response, hazardous incidents, residential/commercial/industrial/vegetation fires, vehicle accidents, heavy rescue, high-rise and trench rescue and extreme weather events. The location of the fire station, the number of career firefighters and the number/types of appliances responded all impact on the ability to safely and successfully rescue the public and prevent the seriousness of the fire or spread to other homes and businesses.  Quite simply it can be the difference between life and death.

New Zealand requires a transparent planning process that ensures the ongoing risks and demographics of the country are met with effective fire and emergency services.

FENZ is refusing to implement a process of transparent risk assessment to determine the appropriate allocation of resources. Recent builds demonstrate that funding is not necessarily being allocated to the areas of community risk.  Earlier this year a report “Ashes to Ashes” listed FENZ’s new stations including a $1.9 million at Lake Okareka, a new $4 million station at Wanaka and a “double-bay station, complete with training space, laundry, and kitchenette, in Tinui, a town of 20 people”

Meanwhile the number of professional career firefighters remain at 1980s levels despite the population soaring from 3 million to 5 million. The professional career firefighters respond to more than 80 percent of all incidents across all incident-types that FENZ responds to.

The following is just a snap-shot of the dire need for more career stations, station upgrades and more career firefighters:

  • Currently in Auckland (which accommodates more than a third of New Zealand’s total population) each career firefighter services approximately 3000 members of the community.  In the USA and Australia the major cities generally have a ratio of 1 firefighter per 500-700 people.  The Auckland ratio is untenable and unsustainable and puts the Auckland community at risk.  The toll on firefighters is apparent with higher levels of injuries.    Last weekend alone there were insufficient firefighters to cover the overtime resulting in some appliances responding without minimum staffing.  That impacts on the ability of the crew to rescue, and places the crew at additional and foreseeable risk.
  • Levin is in desperate need of a career fire station with volunteers struggling to maintain response during business hours as they do not work in their volunteer turn-out area.  At the moment the protection of the Levin community is largely dependent on professional career firefighters agreeing to leave their families in Palmerston North to ensure Levin trucks get out the door.
  • The Napier Fire Station has a seismic rating of 15% which is a very high life safety risk in an earth-quake prone region. The firefighters move the trucks out of the unsafe engine bay with each reasonable shake to ensure they will be able to respond to the community even if the engine-bay collapses.
  • Last year FENZ refused to include standard fire safety systems in the Kilbirnie station which was being upgraded due to black mould and asbestos.  At the time it was reported at least 31 of the 79 stations where career firefighters are 24/7 do not have automatic sprinkler systems.
  • In Tauranga and Mount Maunganui the population has sky-rocketed and in summer swell even further.  Their specialist appliances are not stationed where the risk is because they cannot fit in the appropriate station.

The above is just a few examples and does not include the dangerous lack of aerial appliances necessary for high-rise and response to large commercial and industrial premises.  Then there are the widespread issues with the fire appliances and the replacement vehicles are breaking down on a regular basis.

It is time that FENZ is required to implement a transparent and robust process to determine the allocation and prioritization of resources is based on community risk, community protection and firefighter safety.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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